The furore over Disney+ (Disney) and #MayThe4th is a classic example of how social media is a minefield for managing the reputation of a brand. 

Brands need to be “part of the conversation” and social media campaigns need to be quick and nimble. There’s relatively little time or space for nuance. The upsides are huge. Yet it is very easy to mis-step and the reputational harm can be great. 

The #MayThe4th issue is interesting because it illustrates how, post-Cambridge Analytica and in this fake news era, the social media public is much more savvy about their rights in the content they create and upload to social (UGC) . If a brand is perceived to be overreaching rights to users’ UGC or laying claim to hashtags then, as Disney is now experiencing, that can cause a potentially damaging social media reaction. 

What makes this galling for Disney is that it wasn’t laying claim to the #MayThe4th hashtag. Disney was inviting followers to send in their Star Wars memories. Some of those submissions would be used in Disney’s MayThe4th campaign. Disney Tweeted that those submissions would be subject to its legal terms of use. By doing so, Disney was getting consent to use that UGC in its campaign (and also to protect itself from other risks, such as infringing/harmful content being submitted). However, the Tweet was not understood by some of the social media public in that way. By simply referring to the Disney terms of use as binding users, Disney’s approach did succinctly address Disney’s content risks - but it exposed it to criticism. 

Brands would do well to learn from this. The key is to be sensitive to these issues around UGC; they matter to the social media public (and also present obvious targets for social media trolls). Remember your audience and adapt your message to your forum. From a risk perspective, balance your legal with reputational risks. Being less legalistic and using a parred back user-friendly approach might strike the right balance. It could also enhance your brand reputation by showing sensitivity to these user concerns.

Visit our digital content and reputation risk hub (Hub) for details & our online harms client series & upcoming webinar.